Under pressure from CalAware and the press, the use of non-public committees by local bodies to avoid the Brown Act has been abandoned in two instances in the past week. The Costa Mesa City Council has approved the staff-recommended discontinuation of five “working groups” of council members created in January, after CalAware threatened to sue to force them to meet openly as virtual standing committees. And the board of directors of the Oakland-based Bay Area Rapid Transit District, subject to strong editorial prodding by the Contra Costa Times and public records requests by CalAware, has abruptly decided to drop 15 of its 22 “ad hoc” committees — some in operation behind the scenes for years — and require the remaining seven to meet subject to the transparency rules of the Brown Act.
That law permits specially tasked groupings of a sub-majority of a local board or council to meet without public notice and open doors to address limited issues and then report back to the parent body and dissolve. But Costa Mesas council and the BART board have been using this “ad hoc” committee exception as applied to panels with vague general areas of responsibility, no specific task assignment and no windup date.